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Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel. (Photo: Allison Eckel).

Burlington party organizations sweep county primaries

Eckel, Kostoplis win on Dem side; Fortune, Ditzel win Republican primary

By George Christopher, June 08 2022 12:02 am

The New Jersey Globe projects that the Burlington Democratic and Republican organization slates have swept their respective countywide primary elections.

On the Democratic side, incumbent County Commissioner Allison Eckel and organization-backed sheriff candidate James Kostoplis defeated Mount Holly Mayor Jason Jones and former Westampton Committeeman Lee Eckart, respectively, by huge margins. Incumbent Sheriff Anthony Basantis did not seek re-election to a second term.

Jones and his slate ran in order to give a more favorable ballot position to county committee candidates in Mount Holly, where Jones is seeking to oust Democratic Municipal Chairman Mike Rothmel.

Republicans chose former Moorestown School Board member Jeff Fortune, the party endorsee, for commissioner by a modest 56-44% margin over Valerie Gallagher, who ran off the line with congressional candidate Ian Smith. Former undersheriff Mike Ditzel won the primary for sheriff unopposed.

Eckel, a former member of the Lenape Regional High School Board who lost a close race for State Assembly in 2021, was selected by Burlington Democrats for a county commission seat after County Commissioner Linda Hynes resigned to become a judge of the Superior Court in January. Eckel’s appointment proved to be something of a difficult process; Democrats chose her to fill Hynes’ seat after the deadline had passed, and they had to wade through several court challenges just to seat her at all.

As for Kostoplis, this is his third bid for sheriff after losing to incumbent Republican Jean Stanfield twice, in 2013 and 2016. In March, he won the Democratic convention to replace Basantis over Lumberton Township Committeeman Terrance Benson and Westampton Township Committeeman Odise Carr.

Fortune and Ditzel ran on the organization line with congressional candidate Bob Healey Jr., while Gallagher was aligned with Smith and helped his campaign get a favorable ballot position. Gallagher’s campaign hit a major snag when she was arrested on drunk driving charges in April; she has pleaded not guilty and will be in court next month.

Democrats have a 5-0 majority on the county board of commissioners after picking up two seats in 2018, two in 2019, and one in 2020, giving them complete control of county government. The sheriff’s office has been held by Democrats since then-Sheriff Jean Stanfield, now a state senator, stepped down to run for the State Assembly in 2019.

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